Bonjour de la Suisse

Hello from Switzerland! ~~ The adventures of a California girl who got married to a great guy, G, and traded in her old life for the chance to live in a foreign land and live the expat life for a couple years. We live in Geneva, Switzerland with our globe-trotting cat, Scout.

Ma photo
Nom :
Lieu : California, United States

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." ~ G.K. Chesterton

mercredi, août 30, 2006

A great guy

A couple weeks ago I got some very sad news, my uncle Bob passed away. He was 74, but it was still quite a shock for the family. I've always felt very close to him, as well as my other uncle on that side of the family, Dave. And even though we are so far away, it was important for me to go out for the funeral. So, I hopped on a plane for Seattle and spent the weekend with my family up in Mount Vernon.

Since as long as I can remember, I have been a loyal Seahawks fan and that is because of my uncle. He was a sports enthusiast and the Seahawks were his team. He had a knack of remembering every fact & figure of the game, which always amazed me! As kids we would usually visit in the summer and he used to take me & my brother to Mariner's games religiously. So now do you see why I'm so loyal to the Seattle teams? :)

He also had a passion for teaching and taught high school history & economics for more than 30 years. He also coached football, wrestling, and baseball. He was a very popular teacher & coach, and I can see why... he was a warm & caring guy with a friendly smile and infectious laugh. I had the chance to meet some of his colleagues and students and it was very apparent how much he was loved. I remember when I was in high school walking through the local mall in Mount Vernon with my uncle and having an endless stream of students greeting us with "Hi Coach!"

I'm really happy I was able to head up to Seattle last year to see him just before we moved out to Geneva. And even though I only saw him a couple times a year when I was living back home, I will really miss him. But I have many wonderful memories, like sneaking black olives off the table before Christmas dinners when I was a kid, day trips to Seattle or closer towns like Anacortes, and dinners at my grandparent’s house in Everett. I'm really lucky to have had an uncle that was such a great guy and brought so much joy to the people around him.

mardi, août 29, 2006

The grand tour

Chica had only one more week in Europe and we had hardly seen any of Switzerland. Our plan was lots of day trips all over this beautiful country, the only problem was the heat wave of just a couple weeks earlier was a distant memory and the rain clouds that had moved in weren't going anywhere!

We started in Geneva, toodled around town and went on a tour of the United Nations. The Fêtes de Genève was in full swing, so the town was hopping and there was plenty to do at night (despite things getting canceled due to the weather). We took full advantage of the rides, including go-carting, the giant swings (Chica's favorite) and this crazy ride called "Disco Sensation" that almost made us ill (but was super fun).

Tuesday was the best forecast of the entire week (partly cloudy), and we figured it was the best day to go to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn. After catching a very early train, we arrived and were thrilled to see that the views were fairly clear! We took a cable car & gondola to the top of Rothorn Paradise and hiked down to the valley floor. On the way we stopped at my favorite restaurant, Findlerhof - Franz & Heidi for lunch and stunning views of the mountain!

We got back to Geneva pretty late, but after a dinner of Mike Wong's (Thai fast food that looks suspiciously like McDonald's) we decided to go out. A group of my friends from GoL were meeting up at the O-bar, which was temporarily set up in a tent right in the middle of the Fête, right on the lake. The place was hopping, lots of great music and I knew quite a few people there too. The only problem was, the bar had to close at midnight because of the noise. A very large group of us were looking for a place to go next when someone suggested Le Petit Palace. No one had been there before, but supposedly it’s the new hot bar in the old town. We went to this very normal looking bar, having a great time and next thing you know a girl gets on a small stage and starts a striptease!! We were a bit shocked... little did we know this was the entertainment for the night! All the other people we were with were taken aback too. What was that about Geneva being boring?!?

Late nights equal late mornings, and we got up pretty late the next day. But all was not lost, we were headed over to the small, medieval town of Yvoire, France, located on the French side of Lac Léman - Lake Geneva. I had never been there before and it was great to finally see this cute little town for myself.

Next on our tour of Switzerland, we spent the day in Luzerne & Bern. Luzerne was rainy and a little cold. It is such a beautiful town, even in the rain. We did a little walking tour, and Chica visited the Picasso museum. Soon we were on the train again to Bern. We tried to see the famous bears of Bern, but they had moved inside. The rain was really coming down now, so we dodged into a local brewery and took a break from all of our sightseeing.

With all of our train travel, we soon found fun & creative ways to pass the time (besides the ever-popular reading & sleeping). We played cards, drew portraits of each other (scary) and made friends with the locals. Chica was even serenaded by an Italian accordion player! I think he was a bit frustrated with our limited knowledge of most languages and his song went a little something like this: "You don't know Italian... you don't know German... you don't know English..." It was quite funny!

The weekend was here and G could now join us on our travels. We went to the town of Lausanne, on our side of Lac Léman to visit the Olympic museum. The sun was actually trying coming out, which was a welcome change from the wet & rainy week we had had. That night was the big Fêtes de Genève fireworks show. The best views are right down the block from us, on the Rue du Mont-Blanc bridge. G saw it last year and thought it was the best fireworks he had ever seen, and I must agree! It had been raining, but the rain stopped just long enough for us to see the 45 minute show without an umbrella. It was really amazing! We all loved it. Unfortunately the big air show (on Sunday) that had been advertised all over the country wasn't quite as grand. We waited over an hour in the freezing cold (this is summer, right?) and stared up at the grey skies to see a very unimpressive fly-by or two before we decided to head home and warm up!

This was the end of Chica's trip and she was returning home herself. I was so sad. The last four weeks had been some of the best times I have had since I moved here. We spent the last evening cutting up Sudoku puzzles and crafting a little paper checkers set that would fit in her wallet. This is because the airlines were super strict about what could be brought on the plane since a terrorist plot was foiled in England the week before. Thankfully, I'm glad to report she made it safely back!

Having Chica as our roommate for the bulk of the summer was great! The only thing I would have changed was the weather. As G predicted, the day after she left the sun came out and we have had really beautiful weather ever since. We'll have better weather next time Chica! ;)

Geneva by day (at the UN)

Geneva by night (at the Fête)

At Rothorn Paradise, overlooking the Matterhorn

The local sheep

The Lowendenkmal (lion monument) in Luzern

At the historic Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) in Luzern

On the train

Taking a swim at the Olympic museum

G at the Olympic museum

A rainbow over Lausanne

Dinner in Lausanne

Rain, rain, go away!!

lundi, août 28, 2006

small country, BIG passion!

After all our adventures in France, Amsterdam & Belgium I was a little worried that Chica would be bored in Geneva. I have heard so many times what an unexciting city Geneva is (Rick Steves calls it "The big, dull city of Geneva") that I have become a little self-conscious of my new home when visitors arrive.

We had decided to stay local through the weekend, since the Fêtes de Genève was starting (the big 10-day festival that takes over the town ever August). I was busy scowering GenevaOnLine (GoL) for some fun stuff to do and came across this ad: "Do you want to be in a parade? Come join us and support Trinidad/Tobago on Saturday!" Wow, that sounds like it could be interesting, so Chica, G & I went to the informational meeting on Friday at a local pub. (G wasn't going to partake in the parade, something about having to work... yeah, right, but he would come by and take a few pictures and lend his moral support). We were told that the next day, we would be given red t-shirts to wear and to show up in black shorts and see you then!

The next day we arrived at the organizer's apartment to get ready for the big parade, Caravane du Monde (which was billed as, "An ambulatory show and large festival where everyone shares in the musical traditions of the world.") Originally there were 15 or so volunteers (besides the core contingency who were actually from Trinidad/Tobago), but due to the weather, which looked like impending rain, there were only four of us. Myself, Chica, Ms Tropical, and a brave guy that agreed to be a "devil", painted in chocolate.

We didn't really know anyone, but we were trying to help out as much as we could. The chocolate wasn't working, so our guy was put in a blue outfit and painted blue. Then Ms Tropical comes out in full costume! Cool, but I will wear the t-shirt thank you. Next thing I know Chica is in costume and a couple other girls have whisked me into a back room "just to try one on". I thought that all the girls there were going to be in costume, so I figured I would try, but still I was going to wear the t-shirt. Next thing I know I was being stapled into this crazy thing and then panic erupted in the apartment, "WE"RE LATE!! Everyone out the door!!" A big feathery hat was slapped on my head and we were walking through the streets on our way to the parade!!

Facts about the parade:
Number of Trinidad/Tobago volunteers in costume (including blue-guy): 4
Number of real Trinidad/Tobago folks in costume: 0
Number of people in the entire parade in skin-bearing costumes: about 7
Number of mirrors in the apartment where we put on our costumes, so we could see exactly what we looked like in these things: 0
...hmmmm, not good.

The parade starts and I go into a slight panic. I became acutely aware of just how little I was wearing and just how many people I have met in Geneva that could potentially be there. Not to mention that my husband is expecting us to be in t-shits and shorts! My only hope was that people were scarred off by the potential of rain, but it was not to be, the parade route was packed! I finally see G's smiling face (camera in hand!) and was relieved that he was amused by our attire. I was starting to really have fun, but it was seriously the longest parade in the world!! For four hours we danced and smiled and danced some more.

At the end we were led into a huge circle of spectators to dance some more. Most groups had practiced choreographed dances for this, but our motley crew just shimmied around to the sounds of our steel drum band. It sort of felt like we were being led into the gauntlet. It wasn't pretty, but we were finally done!! In the end we really had a great time, and us four volunteers were granted permanent citizenship to Trinidad/Tobago, the "small country with BIG passion!"

We finished the weekend off with a little wake boarding on Lake Geneva with some folks from GoL (different group). I have to honestly say it was the roughest water I have ever boarded on, I felt like I was being tossed around like a rag doll. Chica and I seemed to make a good impression with our mad skills (although we have both boarded much better at Trinity). We had a great time and met some cool people too! We also got a workout when we were told that the train was leaving in 4 minutes (we were about six blocks away)! We ran-like-hell uphill to the station and made the train without a second to spare. Good thing, since it was an hour until the next one. Good times, good times.

And for all those people that think Geneva is dull & boring... you should hang out with us for a while! ;)

The four brave volunteers

Our flag guy

Our steel drum band

Small country, BIG passion -- on the parade route

The entire Trinidad/Tobago contingency (most of us, anyway)

Pic with the Swiss guys that carried traditional Swiss cow bells the entire parade!

Me & my supportive husband

Let’s board!! (See how rough the water was?!?)

About to board, that water is COLD!!

Chica braves the water!

The whole wake boarding gang

mercredi, août 23, 2006

“…no, really, this is going to be a great tour!"

After a very early flight to Amsterdam, what do we do? Chica & I get on the (slow) train to Brugge in Belgium. On the way we figured we would stop in Brussels, the unofficial capital of Europe, for a little sightseeing & lunch. There isn’t a ton to see in this capital city, besides the Grand Place and Manneken-Pis, so we decided to kick up our heals and take a nap… right on the front lawn of the local cathedral, St. Michael’s. It was quite comfy and gave us the strength we needed to continue on with our journey!

Belgium is known for a few things, beer, chocolate, waffles, and beer. We arrived in Brugge pretty late, so after checking in, there was only time for dinner. At a cozy little restaurant right on Market Square, we ordered two local Belgium beers and the waiter asked us, “medium or large?” Large! “No, no, I would recommend you start out with the medium.” Thank goodness we did!! The mediums were two feet tall and served in these crazy wood contraptions to hold them.

After, we found a little bar and made friends with this great couple from England. When they asked us to talk in our best English accents we had them on the floor laughing… something about Chica sounding like an Aussie and me sounding like a Scot. We didn’t get it. We thought our accents were right on, “aye mate?” ;)

In Brugge we did some sightseeing, took a quaint little boat ride, and on our way out of town we stopped in the last working brewery in the city for a tour. Soon, we were headed back to Amsterdam.

Now, the weather in northern Europe was quite different from Geneva. It wasn’t cold, really, but it was raining quite a bit. And when we went to meet up with the Mike’s Bike Tour, the weather didn’t look like it was going to get any better. But, ponchos in hand, we braved the weather and pedaled away! For four hours we rode around town and into the countryside where we saw windmills and visited a cheese farm & clog factory. The tour was really great! The guide and the rest of our group were really fun, even the guys from the Bay Area (we seem to meet people from Cali every were we go!)

That night we decided to go on a Red Light District tour. We took Rick Steve’s advice (who has never steered us wrong) and went with “Randy Roy’s Red Light Tours” which was described as: 'a fun, casual, yet informative walk through this fascinating and eye-popping neighborhood'. Okay, sounds good. Well, our guide showed up drunk as a skunk!! She had this crazy little sign written in ball point pen to advertise her tour. There were two Irish gals there for the tour also, and we thought, "if they're in, so are we" (besides, it was too late to do much of anything else). So, off we went, with our guide slurring her words and repeating over and over, “…no, really, this is going to be a great tour!”

I wouldn’t call it great, but it certainly was entertaining. (Hey, with lines like, "This is where Quentin Tarantino wrote 'Pulp Fiction' and I don't remember sleeping with him, but that doesn't mean anything! Hahahaha...”, how could the tour not be entertaining?) It was absolutely pouring rain, so when we ducked into the bar at the end of the tour for our “free drink” included in the ticket price, I didn’t even notice it was a gay bar. Then the tour guide’s “boyfriend” sat with us for a while to share his worldly experience. He was very old and a bit scary. The looks on the Irish gals faces was priceless, and not-soon-enough, the four of us were out of there! The rest of the evening we were trying to ditch our all-to-friendly-gay-German-boyfriends (who were married to each other). But that, dear readers, is a whole other story... (but we were successful in getting rid of them!).

Despite the on & off rain, we signed up for a canal tour with the St. Nicolaas Boat Club, which is a small nonprofit group that preserves historic Dutch boats. It was hands-down the best tour we had ever taken! There were only seven of us (all Americans) and Captain Diego, our fearless leader from Buenos Aires. He was hilarious!! Because of the rain (and a lack of a roof), we kept ducking under bridges to stay dry, but when we went under a smaller bridge, we ran aground (or something) and got stuck. Of course, we didn't believe him. "No, seriously, WE ARE STUCK! But don't worry because this boat is unsinkable!" "But didn't you salvage this from the bottom of the canal to restore it?" one guy asked. Diego replied, "Oh yeah, we did!"

We eventually got loose, but because we kept stopping, the 90 minute tour lasted over 3 hours! We talked and talked about all kinds of things and had the best time! One girl even offered us part of her mushroom sandwich, but we declined. After about 2 1/2 hours Captain Diego's phone rang and he says, "Oh yeah, I'm still on the tour..." without a care in the world. The only mishap was when we were cruising through the main canal in the Red Light District and Diego became a little distracted and ran into a parked boat! He quickly recovered, checked to see there was no damage (& no angry owner) and we were off once again! Our only issue was we had a plane to catch. Although we were bummed when we finally pulled into the dock, we were glad that we made our flight back to Geneva!

At the Grand Palace in Brussels

Cheers to Belgium beer!

Our British friends

Sightseeing in Brugge

Touring with Mike's Bikes in Amsterdam

Our (slightly wet) tour group

Windmill shot!

Holland souvenirs

Stuck under the bridge with the St. Nicolaas Boat Club

Captain Diego, our fearless leader!

mardi, août 22, 2006

They won't insure you for that in the states?!? Let's do it!

Back in Geneva, we decided to take it easy and figure out the best way to stay cool. The big task of the day was trying to find a fan. Earlier in the week, ours had broke when G brought it up from our bomb-shelter storage area in the basement of our building. It did still work, perched precariously on the cat stand and balanced with one of our folding chairs. I thought in the interest of all of our safety, we should probably get another. But, at the "big" electronics store we were told the fans were "fini." Sold out.

It was Friday & tonight we were going out for my birthday dinner and wouldn't you know it... it started to rain! It was a welcome relief from the scorching few weeks we had had and a great b-day gift. The waiter talked us into sharing a "fondue Chinois" (Chinese fondue). None of us had ever herd of it, but it turned out to be amazing! We had a pot of boiling broth that we cooked skewered meat in. We were given about 15 different sauces to dip our meat into. It sounds strange, I know, but it was scrumptious! I would highly recommend it if you ever have the chance.

That weekend, Chica, G & I headed to Interlaken and the Swiss Alp towns in the rugged Berner Oberland. This really is classic Switzerland, and the mountains are beautiful! We took a gondola up through Gimmelwald and on to the town of Mürren. On the way we met a really cool Australian who was traveling alone. We ended up hanging out with her the rest of the day. We ate lunch 2,000 feet up, overlooking the valley floor below. Full from a traditional Swiss lunch, we were ready for a little adventure. The four of us rented mountain bikes and (after a few wrong turns) were headed down switchback dirt trails to the valley far below!

We biked over to the most powerful waterfall in the valley, Trümmelbach Falls, which actually has cut its way through the mountain side. It flows at a rate of over 20,000 liters (5,000 gallons) a second! I've never seen anything like it. Pretty cool!

That night we stayed at the famous Interlaken hostel, Balmer's Herberge. It was sort of like a frat house, they had a great beer-garden type area, their own bar & restaurant, dance club, pool tables, & internet! We even got our own room, which was actually big enough to sleep about 8 people. Our room overlooked the street outside, where the local farmers were parading their cows & goats (wearing traditional bells) around town heading for their summer pastures. It was wild!!

We knew we wanted to really experience the extreme adventure that Interlaken is known for, but we were having trouble deciding between paragliding and canyoning. At breakfast, we overheard some guys at the next table talking about what they had done the day before. When Chica heard one say, "Yeah, canyoning was awesome, and they won't insure you for that in the states!" Her eyes lit up!! We went to the activity desk at the hostel and they said the 1/2 day group had just left, but they would come back if we could be ready in 5 minutes. We scrambled to throw our stuff together and were whisked away to the activity center to meet up with the rest of the group and get our gear on. And when I say gear, I mean gear: wetsuit, helmet, life vest, harness, butt padding, & shoes.

So what is canyoning exactly? Well, our brochure described it as, "Canyoning is a challenging activity where you make your way down a narrow and steep gorge by tackling a series of waterfalls, climbing, abseiling/rappelling, jumping or sliding down cliffs." Sweet!

We hiked a bit and then entered the canyon. Our guides, Timmy (an Aussie) & Sam (from the US), were great! The initial shock of the icy glacial water was close to unbearable! After we eased into the water, there was quite a bit of hiking through the streams before we hit any of the big stuff. When we reached our first jump, I wondered if it was too late to turn back. I have been working on my fear of heights and I thought that repelling 165 feet off the Dumbarton Bridge last year kicked that fear, but I was wrong. I was positively terrified. One by one, I watched my group members disappear into the depths below, including Chica & G, so I knew I had no choice in the matter. Then, it was my turn.

I shimmied out onto a log that spanned the river gorge 30 feet below me, with sheer rook walls on both sides. "Okay, my love, lean over the edge and look below you," Timmy advised me, "You see that 2 x 2 foot pool of water down there? You must land in that. If you jump a foot too far to your left, you will crash into a massive rock shelf and, well, that won't be good for anybody."

Uh, thanks Timmy for alleviating my fears. I mustered up all my courage and managed to jump on the first count of three and landed on target. The day turned out to be one of the most amazing days I have ever had! By the time we reached the bottom, every one of us was sliding through natural rock tubes, swimming through hidden pools, and leaping off 30 foot ledges. (Sorry, no pics of us, our cameras would never have survived the trip.) Four hours later, we had forgotten just how cold the water was and were eager for more! We finally emerged from the depths of the canyon and celebrated with a late lunch and a drink.

We left Interlaken happy and triumphant! All three of us want to go canyoning again, but next time for a full day. The next day Chica and I were on the early flight to Amsterdam and more adventures!

Maybe I could get a job in Interlaken! ;)

Clowning around at the gondola station

Lunch overlooking the valley with our new Australian friend

Hey G, where are we?!? Finding our way to the bike path?

Stopping for a photo shoot

Swiss wildlife

We finally made it to the valley!

Trümmelbach Falls cutting into the mountain

Chica at the falls

Cows on parade!

Balmer's hostel

We survived canyoning!

A well deserved break at the hostel!

Chica & G about to head out

On the road again...